Thanks to Florida farmers and other generous folks, families in need throughout the state will enjoy millions of pounds of fresh produce this year. And it won’t cost them a cent.
Farmers Feeding Florida, a program run by the Florida Association of Food Banks, collects fresh produce that is unmarketable, yet still wholesome and nutritious, and distributes it across the state to food banks. Those food banks then pass the produce along to 3.6 million Floridians, many of whom often don’t know where their next meal will come from.
The Florida Association of Food Banks, a state partner with the hunger relief charity Feeding America, is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization committed to ending hunger in Florida. Its 14 food banks, located throughout the state, provide food to more than 3,000 community and faith-based non-profit agencies. Funding comes from public and private funds. Since its launch in 2009, the Farmers Feeding Florida program has exploded, said Executive Director Rebecca Brislain.
“This year, our success has been incredible,” said Brislain. “The first year of the program was the 2010-2011 fiscal year, and we distributed just under a million pounds. We did 4 million the year after that, and this year we estimate around 15 million pounds. That’s been from the generosity of Florida’s growers and packers. It’s been so successful because of the partners we have in agriculture who helped us establish where the bottlenecks were and the major impediments to getting larger donations,” she said.
“Nearly half of those we feed through our network are children,” Brislain said. “Nothing tastes better than fresh, wholesome Florida fruits and vegetables.”
A recent success was a large citrus donation from Sarasota County. An opportunity arose when the county purchased a 133-acre citrus grove adjacent to its landfill. The county intends to use the land as fill dirt. However, since the parcel was not needed for a few years, the county decided to put the citrus to good use. It contacted the Society of St. Andrew, an organization that gleans produce from fields to distribute to the needy.
“SoSA realized early on that this was a huge project, so its director contacted the Florida Association of Food Banks to offer us the opportunity to harvest what they would not be able to pick,” said Brislain. FAFB became a bona-fide, licensed citrus producer and partnered with Dundee Citrus Growers Association, which was between crops. “With their help, the remaining fruit from the 133 acres was harvested and totaled 38 semi loads, weighing close to 1.5 million pounds. Through donations, Dundee was reimbursed for expenses.” Several other citrus producers across the state have also contributed an additional half-million pounds of citrus to that total.
Another of the program’s large donors is West Coast Tomato in Palmetto. Bob Spencer, West Coast’s vice president of sales, was a founding member of the FFF advisory council and received an award for his efforts last year. “West Coast Tomato has become the model for our program and has donated nearly 2 million pounds of tomatoes to feed Florida’s hungry,” said Brislain at the time of the award presentation.
FFF does all it can to make large donations happen. “Sometimes we pay for labor if the grower is not going to pull [a crop] out of the field. We’ll also pay packaging costs when funds are available,” said Brislain. “That’s essentially how we enable our farming partners to create much larger donations. In some cases they’ve gone from four pallets to 10 truckloads, just because we’re able to cover those out-of-pocket expenses. They feel good knowing what they grow is going to good use, and many times they are able to take a tax deduction for the produce they donate. And it’s not just culls; it’s also beautiful, quality food that may not have found a buyer for because of market conditions.”
To cover expenses, Farmers Feeding Florida receives funds from various sources including the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and private allied partners such as Mosaic. “Its foundation gave us a substantial grant last year. They’ve also been helpful in other ways such as providing grants to our members with expanding the food banks’ refrigeration capacity in their facilities and in their fleets,” Brislain said.
In addition to possible tax incentives, federal and state liability protection further encourages growers to donate produce. The federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act protects donors from liability when donating to a non-profit organization. And Florida law protects donors who contribute both non-perishable and perishable goods.
If you would like to donate produce and want to discuss the details, call 1-855 FLA FOOD (352-3663). FFF’s logistics staff can coordinate immediate or anticipated donations quickly to maximize the impact of your donation. FAFB has a network of more than 160 trucks, and more than half a million square feet of warehouse, cooler and freezer space at your service.
Historic data for Farmers Feeding Florida program:
Pounds distributed by fiscal year.
|FISCAL YEAR||Pounds Sourced||Projections|
|2010-11||Just under 1 Million||N/A|
|2011-12||Just under 4 Million||N/A|
|YTD 8.5 Million||15-18 Million, depending on funding|